Ecological latrine improves family health and food production
Nicoadala (Mozambique) – Fourteen-year-old Nenicha Viega gives a shy laugh when the community activist explains that they can use the family excrement to fertilize the family’s cassava plot.
Nenicha is sitting with her father Filipe Viega outside their family home in Murua, a village in Nicoadala district in the central province of Zambezia. The community activist, Antonio do Rico, tells them that the family’s excrement will be ready for use within the next month.
Both Viega and Nenicha look uncertain. “I don’t have the tools to take the excrement out,” says Viega.
Then much to their surprise, Antonio do Rico, says “No, you don’t need tools; you can use your hands. It will be like powder.” He also explains that this is done in a safe and completely hygienic way.
Although they are wary about using the dried excrement for fertilizer, the father of seven children says he will try to make the best use out of it. For now he appreciates that they finally have a latrine for the first time in their lives.
Nenicha and her family also now have access to safe water. A well was built, with UNICEF support, near her school. The family used to collect water from a traditional water well, which they knew was unsafe.
Do Rico, who sometimes walks 25 kilometres to sensitize community members about how to avoid illnesses such as diarrhoea says that gradually people are more aware of the importance of washing hands under running water, and are keen to build latrines.
“Most however cannot afford soap, and the use of ash as a substitute has not caught on in the community,” he says.
Despite government efforts, official figures show that 74 per cent of the population in rural areas does not have access to clean water and 71 per cent does not use an improved latrine.
In urban areas, the situation is slightly better but still 60 per cent of the population does not have access to clean water and 64 per cent does not have access to improved latrines.
Lucia Novidade, a widow and mother of five children, lives near the Viega family, but she has not yet benefited from a latrine, although she says that she would like one.
The community members have to make bricks for the latrine, but Novidade says she has not been able to do this, because she has no money. She may have already paid the price of poor sanitation losing her 18-month-old baby to diarrhoea.
However, last year UNICEF supported the building of an Afridev pump in the village through a local organization.
“Before, I used the water from a traditional well, but the water was not clean,” says Novidade. “At the time I didn’t understand that it was not for drinking. I didn’t boil it and I regularly suffered problems with my stomach,” she says.
Now she can show off her new 20- litre yellow water container, which she says her brother-in-law bought for her.
“These days I just have to go to the pump twice a day and because it has a top, I can store the water in it. I use the water for everything, drinking, bathing and washing my clothes.” She usually spends one hour waiting at the well, but she says she enjoys the chance to talk to her neighbours.
Do Rico explains that the well has a maintenance committee team consisting of three men and four women. To cover the costs of maintenance of the well, each person who uses the well contributes 1,000 Meticais each month. This requirement is waived for the most disadvantaged community members.
At present the committee has collected 500,000 Meticais, which is kept in the house of one of the trusted members. Besides the repairs, the committee makes sure the well is kept clean.
“How well the communities organize themselves is key to improving access to clean water and sanitation,” says UNICEF Water and Sanitation Officer Domingos Chiconela. “For a start, it is important that the community members appreciate the importance of having a latrine and also hand washing and that they participate in maintenance of their water supplies.”
Novidade is exempt from the monthly 1,000 Meticais fee. She only has a small cassava plot which yields just enough for home consumption. Do Rico also says she will receive a latrine dug by the community members.
“It is our job to also identify vulnerable households like hers where the children are orphans,” explains do Rico.